Maynooth University Library Cat Update

Posted in Maynooth with tags on August 11, 2022 by telescoper

Over the past week or so I’ve made numerous trips back and forth to the Examinations Office and Exam Halls on matters relating to the repeat examinations, which finished yesterday. In the course of my perambulations I’ve been keeping an eye out for Maynooth University Library Cat, but until yesterday I didn’t see him anywhere. When I did catch a glimpse of him yesterday he had flaked out underneath a bush and I didn’t want to disturb him to take a photograph. Luckily however whoever operates Maynooth University’s Twitter feed managed to get a good snap of him today:

It can’t be ideal in this weather to be wearing a black fur coat, but he seems well. I guess he has been keeping a low profile in the shade most of the time. Whenever I passed his residence I made sure there was water in his bowl, but if he got really thirsty he could probably drink from the little stream that flows under the bridge on which he holds court. There are fish in there, and even the occasional otter, so I suppose the water is OK to drink. I don’t think I’ll put that to the test though. Certainly not now. I’ve just finished marking the last batch of scripts so I think I’ll go for a glass of wine…

Recalibration of Ultra-High-Redshift Galaxies

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on August 10, 2022 by telescoper

Remember all the recent excitement about the extremely high redshift galaxies (such as this and this; the two examples shown above) “identified” in early-release JWST observations? Well, a new paper on the arXiv by Adams et al using post-launch calibration of the JWST photometry suggests that we should be cautious about the interpretation of these objects. The key message of this study is that the preliminary calibration that has been in widespread use for these studies is wrong by up to 30% and that can have a huge impact on inferred redshifts.

The new study does indeed identify some good candidates for ultra-high-redshift galaxies, but it also casts doubt on many of the previous claims. Here is a table of some previous estimates alongside those using the newly recalibrated data:

You will see that in most – but not all – cases the recalibration results in a substantial lowering of the estimated redshift; one example decreases from z>20 to 0.7! The two candidates mentioned at the start of this post are not included in this table but one should probably reserve judgement on them too.

The conclusive measurements for these objects will however include spectroscopy, and the identification of spectral lines, rather than photometry and model fits to the spectra energy distribution. Only with such data will we really know how many of these sources are actually at very high redshift. As the philosopher Hegel famously remarked

The Owl of Minerva only spreads its wings with the coming of spectroscopy.

Chorizo Sandwich

Posted in Music with tags , , on August 9, 2022 by telescoper

Now that the social media fuss about ChorizoGate is dying down a bit I thought I’d change the subject completely by posting some music. This tune is by a band call Los Alacranes and it’s entitled … oh no! … Chorizo Sandwich

Megalithic Mystery Solved!

Posted in Biographical, History, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on August 8, 2022 by telescoper

This morning I realized that almost exactly four years ago I visited the megalithic passage tomb at Knowth. In my post about that visit I mentioned the extraordinary stone carvings found outside the tomb and their possible connection with astronomy. Following on from ChorizoGate I can finally reveal that the solution to this ancient mystery is in fact gastronomical.

Reach for the Stars!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on August 7, 2022 by telescoper

After all the nonsense in the past few days about ChorizoGate I thought I’d pass on news of some really wonderful and wonderfully real astronomical images featured in this year’s ‘Reach for the Stars’ astrophotography competition run by Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS). You can find a full gallery and learn more about the competition here, but here is just one beautiful image as a taster. It was taken by Aisling McGuire and it shows the Twelve Bens mountain range in Connemara, with the Milky Way above.

Picture Credit: Aisling McGuire

Do look at the rest of the gallery!

The Dark Side of ChorizoGate

Posted in Astrohype with tags , , on August 6, 2022 by telescoper

So ChorizoGate continues…

The story has now made it into numerous newspapers, from the Daily Star to The Times, and even got coverage on CNN News and the RTÉ website. More exciting still, it’s in Physics World!

In every single one of the stories I’ve seen, the image, together with the JWST connection, is attributed to Étienne Klein who is apparently very well known in France as a popularizer of science in the French language. Because he writes and broadcasts in French he is not so well known outside France. Until recently that is!

To be honest I’m quite relieved to have avoided the media notoriety surrounding ChorizoGate, especially as it means I’ve avoided being on the front page of the Daily Star! Dr Klein is welcome to the publicity, though perhaps it might backfire on him…

Since Thursday, when I posted my piece on the background to ChorizoGate, I’ve been contacted by a significant number of people (some in private and some in public, on social media) with stories about the “French scientist” who spread the above image on Twitter. Some of these are rather worrying.

In particular, in 2016, Étienne Klein was involved in a scandal in which he was shown to have plagiarized some of the material in one of his popular books. This is mentioned only briefly on his wikipedia page, but there are articles about his plagiarism here and here (in French). This story accords with many of the public and private comments I’ve seen about his habitual plagiarism. In other words, he has form. A lot of it, even if only a fraction of what I’ve been told is true.

Étienne Klein’s appropriation of a silly joke is of no consequence, but I couldn’t help wondering how someone who would do that might behave with things that actually matter. Now I think I know the answer, and it’s worrying.


Examining Again

Posted in Biographical, Education, Maynooth with tags , , on August 5, 2022 by telescoper

ChorizoGate distracted me from mentioning on here that the Repeat Examination period started on Wednesday. I usually write a post at the start of an Exam period to wish all the students good luck, but this time the first examination for which I am responsible took place yesterday morning, and I’ve already marked the scripts so in that case the die is already cast. I send my best wishes to all other students taking repeat examinations, though, including the first-years taking my paper later on this afternoon.

Today’s examination doesn’t finish until 5.30pm so I’ll have to collect the scripts on my way home to mark them over the weekend. I have another three examinations on my own modules next Wednesday but because of ongoing staffing issues I am also responsible for marking several examinations for modules I didn’t teach. I’ve got a busy week ahead so I want to finish marking today’s paper before it starts,

I also thought it was worth mentioning for any university teachers out there reading this that although they are held at roughly the same time of year in the two countries there’s a difference in the way resits are handled in the institutions I’ve worked at in the United Kingdom and the way repeats work here in Maynooth which is implied by the slightly different name.

In UK institutions with which I am familiar students generally take resits when, because they have failed one or more examinations during the year,  they have not accumulated sufficient credits to proceed to the next year of their course. Passing the resit allows them to retrieve lost credit, but their mark is generally capped at a bare pass (usually 40%). That means the student gets the credit they need for their degree but their average (which determines whether they get 1st, 2nd or 3rd class Honours) is negatively affected.

This is the case unless a student has extenuating circumstances affecting the earlier examination, such as bad health or family emergency, in which case they take the resit as a `sit’, i.e. for the first time with an uncapped mark.

Here in Maynooth, repeat examinations are generally taken for the same reasons as in the UK but the mark obtained is not capped. When I’ve told former UK colleagues that our repeat examinations are not capped they generally  don’t  like the idea because they feel that it might lead to many students playing games, i.e. deliberately not taking exams in May with the intention of spreading some of their examination load into August. There’s not much sign of students actually doing that in my Department, to be honest, for the reason that the results from the repeat examination period are not confirmed until early September so that students that deploy this strategy do not know whether they are going to be able to start their course again until a couple of weeks before term. That could cause lots of problems securing accommodation, etc, so it doesn’t seem to me to be a good strategy.

I’d welcome comments for or against whether resits/repeats should be capped/uncapped and on what practice is adopted in your institution(s).

ChorizoGate: an Accidental Hoax

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 3, 2022 by telescoper

My Twitter account is usually a quiet backwater of social media, and that’s the way I like it, but there was an unexpected burst of activity and interest in it over the weekend. To amuse myself on Saturday morning I decided to post this on Twitter:

I thought a few people might find it funny, but it took off beyond my expectations. By my standards over 5000 likes counts as “going viral” (as you young people say). Most people saw the joke immediately – if you don’t get it, the image is of a slice of chorizo not an astronomical object – and some even joined in with puns and other jokes. Even funnier, some respondents earnestly shared their devastating insight that it was chorizo (or some variant thereof). I honestly didn’t think anyone would think that I was seriously trying to pass it off as a JWST picture; it was just meant to be silly. But there you go. That’s Twitter. I should also report that some people looked at the rainbow flags in my profile and proceeded to indulge in some casual homophobia. That’s Twitter too. Those people all got blocked.

Anyway, the day after I posted the image it seems a prominent French physicist called Etienne Klein who has many times more Twitter followers than I do, posted this embellished version. TRIGGER WARNING – it’s in FRENCH:

Notice the picture is exactly the same. What a coincidence! You might consider this plagiarism; I couldn’t possibly comment. I always regard anything I put on social media as being in the public domain so I’m not really bothered if other people “borrow” it. There’s quite a lot of plagiarism of stuff I’ve written on this blog out there, but life’s too short to get upset about it. Credit would be courteous, but one one learns that it isn’t generally to be expected.

As a matter of fact it’s not a new joke anyway. I didn’t make the picture and don’t remember where I got it from, though it was probably here.

Anyway, the funny thing is that this then got picked up by various other people:

and organisations:

There are others, e.g. here, here, here and here. Also here.

ChorizoGate all took off in a very surprising way. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, other than if you make a joke no matter how obvious it is there will always be people who take it seriously…

Ethics Statement for the Open Journal of Astrophysics

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on August 3, 2022 by telescoper

For various reasons I spent yesterday evening, the last evening of my “break”, concocting an Ethics Statement for the Open Journal of Astrophysics. I don’t know much about this sort of thing so some of the text is based on similar statements elsewhere, e.g. at the AAS Journals site. So far we haven’t had many instances of misconduct but I have had to ban a couple of authors for violations.

Anyway, you can find the statement on the OJAp website but I’ve copied it below in case anyone has suggestions of things we might wish to add. If you have any such comments please use the box below:


  1. Ethics and Professionalism
    Authors of papers published in the Open Journal of Astrophysics (OJAp) are expected to adhere to basic standards of professional ethics and conduct that are common across all areas of scholarly publishing. Because we are an arXiv overlay journal we also require adherence to the specific standards stipulated in the arXiv code of conduct of conduct. By submitting a paper authors affirm that their work is theirs, is original and has not been published elsewhere. All parties are also expected to conform to common standards of professional respect and civility. This page summarizes the expected standards of professional and ethical conduct required for OJAp.
  2. Plagiarism (including Self-Plagarism)
    Plagiarism (understood as the act of reproducing text or other materials from other papers without properly crediting the source) represents a serious ethical breach, and may constitute legal breach of copyright if the reproduced material has been previously published. This includes repeating text from previously published papers by the author or authors (i.e., “self-plagiarism”). The arXiv submission process does an initial screen for plagiarism, and we will look very carefully at submissions that have triggered the arXiv filter.
  3. Citations and References
    Articles published in OJAp should include citations to previously published articles which are directly relevant to the results being presented. This requirement is especially important when new ideas or results are being presented. Deliberate refusal to credit or cite prior or corroborating results represents a breach of professional ethics, and can result in summary rejection of a manuscript but an unintentional failure to cite a relevant article does not necessarily imply misconduct. Responsibility for updating references after acceptance (but before publication) of an article rests fully with the authors, but the same principles should apply.
  4. Conflicts of Interest
    The referees selected by the editor assume responsibility for evaluating the scientific veracity, clarity, and significance of the results presented. For such a system to function effectively it is essential that the referee be free of any conflicts of interest that might influence the content or the promptness of the review. Authors may identify individuals who they believe are conflicted and should not serve as referees. Referees also have a responsibility to recuse themselves if they feel a conflict may arise. Editors are required to disqualify themselves whenever a real or perceived conflict is present.
  5. Confidentiality
    The Editorial Board of OJAp will not reveal the identities of referees nor the contents of peer-review-related materials to individuals outside of the respective peer-review process. Referees are also bound by strict confidentiality; neither the manuscripts nor the contents of referee correspondence may be shared with other parties without written permission from the editor. Authors are not bound by similar confidentiality requirements (for example, they may choose to consult with co-authors and colleagues when revising a manuscript in response to a referee report), but public dissemination of the contents of referee reports and editorial correspondence is highly inappropriate.
  6. Professional Conduct
    All participants in the publication process, including Editors, Authors and Referees, are expected to conform to basic standards of professional courtesy, and respect the basic rules and guidelines that govern the peer-review and publication process. Authors should also recognize that all our Editors and Referees are volunteers who give their time freely; that’s part of the reason why the journal is free. Personal attacks or verbal abuse are unacceptable and OJAp reserves the right to refuse submissions from individuals who repeatedly violate these guidelines or refuse to cooperate with editors and referees in the normal peer review and publication processes.
  7. Allegations of Misconduct
    The integrity of OJAp rests on the professionalism of its authors, referees, and editors. Alleged cases of unethical conduct within the editorial process will be investigated vigorously by the Editor-in-Chief or an appropriately delegated individual or individuals and with respect for confidentiality. Accusations of misconduct falling outside of the peer review or publication process may be more properly directed elsewhere. OJAp also recognizes its obligation to protect their authors and referees against malicious, frivolous, vexatious or unfounded allegations of misconduct. Repeated complaints of this type by individuals may be summarily dismissed.

“The Whale”, by John Donne

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on August 2, 2022 by telescoper

A beached Sperm Whale (Dutch woodcut, 1598)

At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken sea they make
Than cannons’ voices; when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch’d roofe
Of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallow’d Dolphins, without feare,
And feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some inland sea, and ever as he went
He spouted rivers up, as if he meant
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament.

He hunts not fish but as an officer,
Stayes in his court, at his own net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthrall;
So on his backe lies this whale wantoning,
And in his gulfe-like throat, sucks every thing
That passeth neare. Fish chaseth fish, and all,
Flyer and follower, in this whirlpool fall;
O might not states of more equality
Consist? and is it of necessity
That thousand guiltlesse smals, to make one great, must die?


These are Stanzas XXXII and XXXIII from “Metempsycosis” by John Donne (1572-1631); posted because they feature in the programme I watched yesterday.